Leaders and managers at Staffordshire children's services have made impressive progress since a focused visit in 2018 which highlighted a deterioration in the quality of some services, an Ofsted inspection has shown.
The local authority took concerted action to improve services and ensure that vulnerable children are considered as a corporate priority. The budget for children’s services is now protected, and additional funding to restructure and increase the number of social workers has been provided.
"Leaders and managers’prompt and effective action has resulted in reduced caseloads for social workers. Social workers have more time to consider and complete work which leads to improved outcomes for many children. Most children and families in Staffordshire receive a good service and benefit from good-quality social work practice. Skilled practitioners work with children and families to reduce risks, meet needs and achieve positive change," said the report.
The local authority recognises that social work practice in a small number of teams and for some groups of children is not consistently good. This includes care leavers with whom the local authority is not in touch, children at risk from gangs and criminal exploitation, young people who are homeless and children who are electively home educated. The local authority is working to address the needs of these young people, but the pace of change has been slow.
Ofsted rated Staffordshire children's services 'good'. The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good. Inspectors highlighted:
- The first response service provides effective and timely screening when children are referred.
- When new concerns present, children and families experience child protection enquiries that are thorough and lead to timely action.
- The majority of assessments completed in safeguarding teams are strong.
- Most plans are of good quality, with some assessments and plans being of excellent quality.
- A range of services are provided to families to effect change, including successful use of the edge of care and intensive prevention service.
- The local authority has been successful at developing a stronger response for children at risk of or exposed to child sexual exploitation.
However, the local authority’s response to children exposed to contextualised riskis not sufficiently developed. For a small number of young people at high risk,the response is not sufficiently effective.
When children go missing from home or care, return home interviews are not always effective in identifying or reducing risks. Furthermore, the local authority has not responded quickly enough to the rise in electively home educated pupils.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is good. The report states:
- Children and young people come into care in a timely manner andwhen it is in their best interests. Thresholds for coming into care are appropriate, based on clear assessments and decision-making.
- Social workers know the children they work with well and this is reflected in their recording.
- Children in care and care leavers are in good physical and mental health.
- Placement stability is a strength.
- A dedicated team for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is a strength and ensures that their needs are met.
- The recruitment and assessment of foster carers is effective.
- Care leavers value the through-care system and the consistency it offers, particularly at the time of transition from children’sto adult services.
However there is limited support to help vulnerable care leavers access education, employment and training opportunities. There are only limited programmes to help build care leavers’confidence and independence skills.
The local authority accepts that the quality and consistency of the care leaver service has been impacted by staffing and sickness. Due to staffing issues in the team,personal advisers do not work closely with young people until they are 18 years old,and there are a small number of young people without a dedicated worker. This means that there is insufficient oversight for some of these young people,and it is more difficult for these vulnerable young people to maintain contact should they need help as these relationships are not established.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good. Ofsted said:
- The director of children’s services, who is also a deputy chief executive,and her management team have ensured that children’s services is a corporate priority.
- The local authority has an effective culture of learning.
- Mature partnerships such as the Local Safeguarding Children Board and Staffordshire Families Strategic Partnership help the local authority to respond to emerging needs.
- The local authority uses performance information and quality assurance well in order to scrutinise and improve practice.
"Staff are positive about working in Staffordshire. They have access to a comprehensive range of training,which is leading to a skilled workforce. Effective systems are in place to ensure careful monitoring of workloads. The leadership team has been effective in reducing workloads and social workers now have sufficient time to see children on a more regular basis., said the report.
"Staff report being able to plan work more effectively and feel more assured thatthechildren they work with are safe. Staff are very positive about their experiences of working for Staffordshire during a time of considerable structural change. Staff describe good access to confident and supportive managers and a calm, consistent strategic approach to service development and provision. Staff are being attracted to work in Staffordshire and the local authority is increasingly effective at recruiting staff to permanent positions," it concluded.
Ofsted recommends Staffordshire addresses the length of time a very small cohort of children remain subject to a child protection plan which is too long without sufficient change in their circumstances, and they remain in neglectful circumstances.
The local authority’s response to children exposed to contextualised riskis not well developed and joined up. For a small number of young people who are at high risk,the response is not robust enough and Staffordshire should focus on this.
The effectiveness of return home interviews for children who repeatedly go missing from home or care and the effectiveness of the response to young people who present as homeless both need improving.
The rise in electively home educated pupils has been significant and there is very limited challenge or safeguarding checks for those families who choose this route for their children, which Staffordshire should address.
Staffordshire should also improve the effectiveness of the response to care leavers who the local authority is not in touch with.